Panic! at the Disco at the Olympia by Michelle Geraghty-2

Panic! At The Disco – Olympia Theatre, Dublin, 12 May 2014

At the height of the emo binge, when My Chemical Romance still seemed original, and launched albums as good as ‘The Black Parade’ by sending armies of hooded Grim Reapers on a death march down Hammersmith High Street, Panic! At the Disco were one pulsating great white hope. Armed with the infectious power-angst ballads of debut album ‘A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out’, they sold out their first UK tour in a time dictated by the ticket company’s server speeds, and got to travel the world on the back of fantastically simple descriptions of social scenarios, laden heavily with smart quotations and snappy witticisms.

Emo always threatened to turn into a parody of itself, though, and many would argue it passed that point a while back. Tonight’s particular show does so at about the three minute mark. Blocking Goldenplec’s view, a teenage couple spend more of the set trying to aggressively remove each other’s tonsils than eyes on the stage. We move. It happens again; a Britney Spears lookalike with her foot shorter boyfriend trying to forcibly remove her ear.

Worse, though, the sound making its way from the stage seems to be untangling its way through the liquid padding of a swamp. Being less familiar with the new material, it takes us the majority of the song to pick out that the opener is ‘Vegas Lights’. Follow ups ‘Time To Dance’ and the wonderfully titled ‘The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is The Press Coverage’ cause a frenzy but – if not for the action on stage – could have been performed over the river in The Academy at ear piercing volume, such is the level of aural fuzziness.

We try a few different places. There are marginal improvements, but Urie’s gang could be playing air guitar for all we know. Visually things can only be better, and fortunately they are. Brendon Urie has developed into a smooth front man, bouncing through the set amongst volcanic spurts of smoke and leaping from corner to corner with the incessant energy of a Duracell Bunny fused with an emo Ryan Gosling. Then there’s the backflip moment. First from the drum riser during the exaggerated pseudo-urban hubbub of ‘Miss Jackson’, and then right in the heart of the stage. Then Urie’s on drums for ‘Let’s Kill Tonight’, and then shirtless during the encore, parading his six pack before an ear splitting chorus of squeals.

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The new material has its moments. The spattering of drugs references and sexual misdemeanors have a certain bad boy charm. It’s accompanied in an octave-above falsetto by the assembled, powering along without the singer at times, but it’s also distinctly cheddary. No one but the super fans buys the ‘this is our hottest show so far’ line (realed out again in Belfast the following night). The blaring lasers and leaping energy still leave ‘New Perspective’ battered out of the park by ‘Camisado’, ‘But It’s Better If You Do’ obliterating ‘Nicotine’, and all four suffering from that damp squib sound.

And then comes the encore, a three song burst with more charisma rammed into it than the rest of the show combined. Sure, ‘Positive Hardcore Thursday’ – which sees Urie do a decent approximation of a constipated Slipknot over a track that is exactly what it sounds like – is daft at best, but it works in context. When the self-mocking’s over, ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’ is still the song that sums the band up. There’s no forced electronic outtakes, a sensible dose of the ol’ circus-lite overlay and Urie’s vocals on ‘pour the champagne, pour the champagne’ absolutely drip with bitterness.

There’s still sparks of the ‘of the moment’ melodrama that made Panic! At The Disco a rock scene mainstay the best part of a decade on, then, and those sparks come from Urie. As the only surviving member from back then, why wouldn’t they? Panic! were clearly never destined to be the next My Chemical Romance, nor were they ever more than loosely bundled into the same genre. They have more edge, a bitter sharpness that’s less self-involved and more abruptly furious at their world and the individuals that occupy it. That sharpness, though, has faded fast.

The crowd lap it up, but to the more neutral observer things seem to have gone off the rails in all the wrong ways. Fans have waited a long, long time for Panic! At The Disco to come back to Dublin. The foggy, scattershot act that finally fulfils those dreams falls short in sound, gusto and in their attempts to modernise and twist themselves into something more relevant to the music scene of eight years on. On this evidence, that intensity can’t quite be recovered by a stage performance that fails to make up for the faded musicality. They appear to be a band just struggling through.

Panic! At The Disco Photo Gallery

Photos : Michelle Geraghty

 

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